Camp helps military kids cope with war
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ANGOLA, N.Y. - As a young kid, 12-year-old Briana Gray knew firsthand how much having a military parent deployed overseas can be stressful.
Her father serves in the Army National Guard, and has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He recently returned from overseas after being stationed there for about a year.
"It was sad and I missed him a lot, but it's like, he's doing a good thing. But, it was depressing," said Gray.
"When you have multiple deployments, you miss multiple birthdays, multiple Christmases, multiple anniversary's of events,” said Alex Knowles, the executive director of Pioneer Camp. “It just compounds that, and they feel more and more disconnected with their own parent."
Sunday, more than one hundred kids from military families arrived at Pioneer Camp and Retreat Center in Angola to try to deal with the pains of deployment.
The free program called "Operation Purple Camp," is offered through the National Family Military Association, and helps kids know they are not alone.
"All of a sudden they have connections and friendships, and they see other people go through the same stresses that they are going through, and they have a bond that lasts a long time," said Knowles.
As part of the one week camp, children ages 7 to 17 from all over Western New York and as far as Staten Island, meet to share their stories and struggles of war.
Operation Purple offers team building activities, rope and rock climbing and relaxing swims in Lake Erie.
One military family says they're hoping Operation Purple will enrich their son's life.
"Just hoping that they do teach him how to handle the stresses, and he gets to meet with other kids and see what stresses do come with me having to be deployed and being gone all the time," said Brian Payton, who serves in the Marine Corps.
And for Gray, a third time vet in the program, she says Operation Purple is a life-changing experience.
"You walk away knowing more,” she said. “And, having people to understand you, and understand what you're going through and everything."